What on Earth Is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate is an herbal tea made from the leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant which is a species of holly. It is traditionally consumed in parts of South America, particularly Argentina, Bolivia, southern and central-western Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Chile.

The leaves are typically dried over a fire which gives it a smoky taste, then steeped in hot water to make the tea.

Traditionally Yerba Mate is consumed from a container called a gourd and sipped with a metal straw (a bombilla) that has a filter at its lower end to strain out the leaf fragments.

More than just a delicious drink to share with friends (tradition says it’s a symbol of friendship and bonding), Yerba Mate can have some great health benefits as well!

Yerba Mate tea
Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

What kind of benefits are we talking?

According to this article from Healthline (backed with scientific sources) Yerba Mate can have some of the following health benefits


  1. Rich in antioxidants & nutrients
  2. Can boost energy and mental focus
  3. May enhance physical performance
  4. May help protect against infections
  5. May help to lose weight and belly fat
  6. May help to boost immune system
  7. Lower blood sugar levels
  8. May help lower risk of heart disease

How to Prepare Yerba Mate

Java Momma Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is traditionally served in a container called a gourd, also known as a calabash.

It’s commonly sipped through a bombilla which is a metal straw that has a filter on its lower end to strain out the leaf fragments.

If you do not own a calabash, you can prepare it in a French press.

  • Add 1-2 TBS of yerba mate to a French press or strainer.
  • Moisten the herb with cool water.
  • Add 8 oz of 170°F water.
  • Steep 5 minutes and strain.
  • Flavor to taste.

The tea is often served with burnt sugar, lemon juice, or milk and can be topped off with hot water several times before using new leaves to make a new batch.

Although traditionally consumed hot, yerba mate may also be served cold, especially in summer or in hot climates.

You can cold brew your Yerba Mate if you want to enjoy it cold!

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) cool water
  • 1 tablespoon loose-leaf yerba mate
  • 1 tablespoon honey, optional, or pineapple, orange, or lemon juice, to taste

Combine the water and tea in a jar and leave to steep overnight. Strain when ready and add honey or juices to taste.

Flavor tips:

  • Rather than honey (or along with it), sweeten the yerba mate with lemon, orange, pineapple, or another type of juice. Start with 1/2 tablespoon and add more to taste.
  • Add herbs to the yerba mate for a boost of flavor. Chamomile, lemongrass, lemon verbena, mint, and rooibos are popular choices. You can also add lemon or orange peel.
  • If you’re short on time or want to try iced yerba mate with a stronger/deeper flavor, switch to the hot brew method: Use twice the amount of yerba mate (typically 2 tablespoons) per cup of water and heat the water to 170 F. Steep for 4 to 6 minutes before straining. Let it cool in the refrigerator or add a few ice cubes for an instant chill, then serve with more ice and sweeten as desired.
  • Make sure you don’t use boiling water to brew yerba mate as it can make it bitter!

Note on caffeine

Yerba mate’s caffeine content can vary (based on if it comes from a male or female plant) but it generally has less caffeine than coffee and slightly more than most types of green tea. At about 85 milligrams of caffeine per cup, it falls in the range of an Assam black tea and can provide a moderate energy boost.